Over one-third of Americans aged 65+ fall each year. With each fall, your risk of future falling increases. The fear of falling also significantly increases your risk of future falls. For many of us, falling does not feel like a risk factor at a younger age. The best defense of protecting our future self is to be proactive at a younger age. Let's first discuss the body's process of keeping balance.
The body has three primary sources of balance; proprioception, hearing, and eyesight. You can now see why aging can significantly impact our balance. Let's talk a minute about proprioception. Proprioception is specialized sensory receptors on nerve endings throughout the body. They are found in muscles, tendons, joints, and the inner ear. These receptors relay information about the motion or position of our body in space. Proprioceptors detect subtle changes in movement, position, tension, and force within the body. Multiple diagnoses will interfere with your proprioception, age being number one—brain injuries from stroke, Parkinson's Disease, ALS, or Huntington's Disease. Arthritis, including disc degeneration, post joint surgery, or neuropathy, are all factors with proprioception loss.
Your inner ear plays a significant role in balance. Ever had an episode of vertigo? How did it impact your balance? I am assuming significantly, along with motion sickness. Your inner ear hosts a series of canals, fluid-like substances, and hair-like follicles that control that "balanced" feeling. The most important part of the inner ear is the utricle and saccule that have tiny particles that tell your body the position of your head in relation to gravity. Sometimes these tiny particles come out of the canal, causing significant episodes of dizziness and whirling feelings. A diagnosis of Meniere's disease can affect your inner ear leading to chronic dizziness.
Lastly, your eyesight can also play a significant role in balance. Your eyesight provides input from your eyes to your brain. When your vision is imbalanced from one eye to another, it causes conflicting signals from each eye to the brain. The directional pulling in your eyes can stimulate nystagmus, which can cause significant dizziness. When your eyes are imbalanced, they can feel motion, even when sitting still. While there are multiple diagnoses for eye strain, nystagmus, and sight loss, aging is still the number one factor.
Many extrinsic factors stimulate imbalance like poor lighting, uneven surfaces, lack of awareness of your surroundings, medications, and improper footwear. So, let's push forward to some preventative things you can do to maintain your balance.
While it is not possible to completely guarantee a fall-proof life, you can substantially lower your risk of falling a few different ways. Physical Therapy is a great place to start. Physical Therapy uses evidence-based exercises to improve your strength and keep you on your feet! You are more likely to fall if you are fatigued. Physical Therapy is a safe and effective way to build your resilience and stamina. There are many ways to place you in a balance-compromised position to retrain your body, your proprioceptors, and your brain to improve your neurological connections. Here are some ways Physical Therapy can help you improve your balance:
Core Strength: Core strengthening is a great way to maintain stability with your day-to-day living. The stronger your core, the more balanced you become. Unfortunately, core strength does not mean crunches. We mean functional core strength and Physical Therapy can teach you to engage and strengthen your pelvic floor and transverse abdominis.
Balance Training: You can improve your balance with repetitive training. By progressing your exercises from easy to more challenging, you can retrain your brain and body to maintain balance. Start with moving your feet closer together to activities on one leg, closing your eyes, or moving around dynamically. The more you practice, the more your fall risk. decreases.
Having strong muscles as you age benefits you in multiple ways:
improves your metabolism, improves your day-to-day activities, improves your balance, and most of all, improves your bone density. So next time you are doing squats, smile and remember the stronger your muscles, the less your fall risk!
Posture: As time goes on, our posture becomes more forward. Our shoulders roll forward, our backs curve forward, and our head slowly shifts forward. You may not be thinking about this in your 30's, but I will say, with all of the people on their cell phones and computers, I see many postural dysfunctions in people at very young ages. The more forward you are, the more gravity works against you, not with you. Physical Therapy can help strengthen the correct muscles to improve your posture and decrease your fall risk.
Wellness 360 Physical Therapy and Massage Therapy is a great place to start for your Physical Therapy needs. We support your needs with one-on-one Physical Therapy treatments, individualized for your needs. We also support your long-term goals by offering affordable group fitness classes in-studio, on-demand, and via zoom. We offer classes to support your aging needs, including bone health strengthening and balance and fall prevention. Find out more at www.wellness360fitness.com.